Thank you very much, Mr. Chipman, and thanks to all of you for being here today. I also wish to acknowledge and thank Mr. Ronnie Chan, chairman of the Asia Society, and Mr. Norman Chan, chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.
And I am so pleased to be here and to have this opportunity to speak with you today, and it was made possible by the U.S., Hong Kong, and Macau chambers of commerce and the Asia Society. And I thank the chamber very much on a personal level for its support of the U.S. Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. I have been called the mother of the pavilion, which is actually one of the nicer things I've been called - (laughter) - during my very long public career.
And I am delighted to be back in Hong Kong, a city I have admired ever since I first visited about 30 years ago when my husband, who was then governor of Arkansas, led the first ever trade mission to East Asia from our small state. Hong Kong stood out then, as it does today, as a symbol of the open exchange of goods and ideas. People were drawn to this place from every part of the world, even far away Arkansas, as evidenced by a good friend of ours from Arkansas, Nancy Hernreich Bowen, who is here with us today.
Now, since that time, Hong Kong has changed a great deal. Certainly, the skyline attests to that. And after all, few things have stood still in East Asia. But one thing about Hong Kong has not changed - the principles that find a home here. Under the "one country, two systems" policy, this remains a city that bridges East and West and looks outward in all directions, a place where ideas become businesses, where companies compete on the merits, and where economic opportunity is palpable and real for millions of people, a place that defines the fierce and productive economic competition of our time.
That is why businessmen and women continue to flock to Hong Kong, and an opportunity to meet some of the Americans who have called Hong Kong home for 20, 25, even 30 years. And it is why I have come here today to talk about how the nations of this region and the United States can intensify our economic partnership on behalf of ourselves, each other, and the world, and how together we can work toward a future of prosperity and opportunity for people everywhere.
But before I talk about where we need to go together, let's consider how far we've come. The economic rise of the Asia-Pacific region is an astonishing historic achievement that is reshaping our world today and into the future. In Hanoi, bicycles and water buffalo have given way to motorcycles and internet cafes. Small Chinese fishing villages like Shenzhen have become megacities with their own stock exchanges. And while much work remains to improve labor practices and expand access to the formal economies, the numbers tell a powerful story.
Thirty years ago when I first came to Hong Kong, 80 percent of the people of this region lived on less than $1.25 a day. By 2005, that number had dropped to 20 percent. In the Lower Mekong Region countries, per capita GDP has more than tripled in the last 20 years. And in Thailand alone, the poverty rate fell from 42 percent in 1988 to 8 percent today. Never in history have so many people climbed so far, so fast.
And though this progress is largely due to the hard work and ingenuity of the people of Asia themselves, we in the United States are proud of the role we have played in promoting prosperity. Of course, we helped Japan and South Korea rebuild, patrolled Asia's sea lanes to preserve freedom of navigation, promoted global shipping, and supported China's membership in the WTO. Along with our treaty allies - Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and Philippines, and other key partners like New Zealand and Singapore - we have underwritten regional security for decades, and that in turn has helped create the conditions for growth.
And the U.S. continues to contribute to Asia's growth as a major trade and investment partner, a source of innovation that benefits Asia's companies, a host to 350,000 Asian students every year, a champion of open markets, an advocate for universal human rights, and a guarantor of stability and security across the Asia-Pacific. The Obama Administration has made a comprehensive commitment to reinvigorate our engagement as a Pacific power - shoring up alliances and friendships, reaching out to emerging partners, and strengthening multilateral institutions.